I first discovered Victoria Montalbano’s outstanding one-woman show, “The Princess Strikes Back: One Woman’s Search for the Space Cowboy of Her Dreams,” last December in downtown Chicago.
I absolutely fell in love with the show. It has humor. It has love. It has romance. It has heartbreak. It has wonderful cultural references. It explores the power of women and changing cultural norms. All in all, it is a beautiful, touching story of the maturing process.
After “The Princess Strikes Back” won the Heartstrings Award for Most Meaningful Independent Production of 2022, I knew that this show is one that should be shared with as many communities and theater audiences as possible.
I happened to be in a position to help make that happen, so I used some of my connections to bring “The Princess Strikes Back” to Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles. Steel Beam is a fantastic company committed to bringing the professional Chicago theater experience to the suburbs.
Clearly, I believe wholeheartedly in the beauty and entertainment value of this tale of love, romance and The Force. So, rather than pretend to offer a wholly unbiased review, I will instead present exactly what it is about the show that makes me believe in it so much.
As the title suggests, “The Princess Strikes Back” has some connection to the Star Wars Universe. What I think is very important to note is that you don’t have to be a “Star Wars” fan to fall in love with the show.
Any “Star Wars” references woven into the story come with clear definitions from Montalbano. So, people who have never seen a single “Star Wars” movie still absolutely love this romantic comedy.
The show starts with Montalbano in full Princess Leia slave garb. A woman enslaved is perhaps not the most natural role model, but Montalbano quickly turns the tables by explaining it as a Power Outfit. This is the outfit Princess Leia was in when she single-handedly strangled giant space worm and all-around villain Jabba the Hutt – something no man had been able to do.
The charismatic storyteller then explains how she came to be standing on a theater stage in Princess Leia garb as a single woman in her thirties. And, it all relates to her first crush: Han Solo – the heartthrob “Stars Wars” bad boy anti-hero played by Harrison Ford.
Over the next 75 minutes, Montalbano takes the audience on a touching journey of her love life, from pubescent teenager having a crush on a fictional movie character to a strong independent woman making her own way in life.
Montalbano came to Chicago as a theater student graduate fresh out of college. Her dream was to study improv and become the next Tina Fey – performing at famous improv institutions like Second City and then moving on to being one of the stars of “Saturday Night Live.” Big dreams that quickly got hit in the face with a big dose of reality.
Being in the city also brought about Montalbano’s first boyfriend since high school, and first overall serious boyfriend. It’s an interesting contrast to where she is now in life – emotionally and professionally.
We take a winding and thoroughly captivating journey through the star’s love life over her years in Chicago, growing into the woman she is today. Along the way, we are introduced to the key love interests of her life – all of whom she has given cute nicknames. Audiences absolutely howl at the names Montalbano uses for the men who have stirred passion in her – from Magnum P.I. to Oscar the Grouch.
Magnum P.I., for instance, is the nickname for the 13-year-old boy whom she had her first crush on (beyond the fictional Han Solo). The Magnum P.I. name references the mustache the boy was already sporting.
The beauty and brilliance of “The Princess Strikes Back” is in the details of Montalbano’s expert storytelling. She makes the audience understand her feelings at each stage of her life. Her accounts aren’t just what happened, they also provide insight into the real human emotions involved.
When a performer is able to give of themselves so intimately and so thoroughly, you know you are in for not just a night of theater, but an experience that will touch you and stay with you. That’s exactly what you get with her award-winning production.
And like I said, you don’t need to be a “Star Wars” person to get the show. There are witty cultural references to things ranging from Riverdance to Broadway’s “Rent” to Oscar the Grouch from “Sesame Street.” Even though she touches on some topics of heartbreak, Montalbano keeps the overall flow balanced with a level of humor.
Audiences at the Steel Beam Theatre performances loved the production. This is the first stop on Montalbano’s summer tour of “The Princess Strikes Back,” taking the one-woman hit to cities around the country. The show returns to the Chicago area in August at the Skokie Theatre, so make plans to see it then. You can keep up to date on future performances at www.VictoriaNotVicky.com or The Princess Strikes Back Facebook page. I can assure you it’s a show you will enjoy.
Adding to the experience at Steel Beam was an opening routine by Any Suggestions? Improv – one of the Chicago area’s funniest improv troupes. They got the audience pumped up and in a great mood to enjoy the main course. Any Suggestions? regularly performs at Steel Beam – so keep an eye out for future opportunities to see them live.
Steel Beam brings professional theater to the western suburbs. Conveniently located in St. Charles, the theater consistently offers quality entertainment at affordable prices, without the drive into the city. The theater will announce its new season shortly. Keep up to date at www.SteelBeamTheatre.com.
• Rikki Lee Travolta is an award-winning creative talent who has appeared throughout the country as a theatrical headliner, as well as in film and television. Visit www.RikkiLeeTravolta.com.